If you don’t respect the man, you must still respect the office. Who made up this drivel? Why would I be under any such obligation? Must one respect an abusive ne’er-do-well on the ground that he is one’s father? What is the moral or philosophical underpinning of such a rule? What is it about one’s station rather than one’s character that would warrant respect — which, by definition, is reserved for a person whom one reveres, not merely a person who occupies a certain space. What space one occupies, after all, is mostly an accident of the fates.
This notion of respect as an unearned entitlement has achieved a cultural critical mass in the Age of Trump. No matter what a person thinks or how he or she comes to possess his or her beliefs, we are told that his or her beliefs — and thus the processes and inputs that produced them — are entitled to respect. We are further told that if we do not respect people’s beliefs, no matter how ignorant they might be, then we who condescend to the ignorant, rather than the willfully ignorant themselves, are the ones who have committed an offense — an offense called elitism.
Take this headline from Mediaite:
Bret Stephens to Maher: Liberals Have a ‘Cultural Condescension’ Problem… Like on Your Show
So the people who would vote a circus clown into the White House (and do so with aplomb) want respect, and if they don’t get it, then it is liberals and not the ignorant who are to blame for our national divide.
This is rather like condemning a competent parent for condescending to an adolescent child. On this theory, one must abide all points of view and treat all people as equally worthy of being taken seriously, no matter the depravity of their thinking or expression or behavior. If your teenager spits on the sidewalk and you admonish the little vulgarian, it is you and your talking down to that is the problem — not the hocking hooligan.
Liberalism is not a bias. It is a commitment to rational thought. The precepts that guide most who call themselves liberals are a commitment to equal opportunity and treatment under the law, demand-side economics, widely available health care and education, and science-based environmental policies. These are not flights of fancy; they are not derived from the maniacal rantings of some screed like the Book of Leviticus. They are nothing but the empirically provable struts that undergird any healthy society.
This is not to say that liberalism is infallible or immune from abuse and overreach, but liberalism is not animated by magical and obtuse thinking. Liberals do not believe that one ethnic group or culture is superior to others; that supply drives economic growth (or that tax cuts for the rich stimulate spending); that paying lip service to hidebound strictures is the marker of moral or intellectual rigor; that every man, woman and post-natal child for themselves is a constructive social ethic; or that drill-baby-drill is an acceptable policy choice in light of the consensus reached by 98% of the world’s climate scientists about carbon emissions, global warming, and, you know — hurricanes and stuff.
To condescend is to talk down to. So this chap called Bret Stephens thinks I should not talk down to a person who thinks, for example, that same-sex marriage is an abomination. Such a person is not just ignorant, but also dangerous. To insist on misery for other human beings because you don’t like or understand them is not just mindless, but evil. It betrays an abject lack of empathy for anyone who does not conform to one’s own tribal mores or protocols. How am I to address such a person? Should I talk up to him? Should I address him as my intellectual equal?
How am I to address a person who thinks that Barack Obama was born in Kenya? How am I to address a person who thinks Earth is 6,000 years old? How am I to address a person who treats mythology as science and science as mythology? How am I to address a person who is not just unlettered, but openly hostile to being talked down to by those who actually know something?
My choices are two: I either 1) talk down to such a person, whose intellectual dereliction leaves nowhere for any rational person to go but down, and thereby be guilty of condescending, or 2) pretend that such a person has beliefs that are worthy of respect and thereby be guilty of patronizing.
As between condescending and patronizing, at least condescension is honest. Since there is no way to talk up or across to an ignoramus, condescension will have to do. And if the type of person who would venerate Donald Trump wishes not to be the victim of “cultural condescension,” the solution would seem simple enough: stop being a fool.